Water and wetland work under the Danube Commission and progress of the Danube ecological expert group's work


The Danube river is a source of life for 83 million people living in its 800,000 km2 basin, covering 18 European countries. In 1994, the Danube River Protection Convention was signed to encourage Contracting Parties to intensify their water management cooperation. With its entry into force in 1998, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (www.icpdr.org) was established as the main decision-making body. It represents a common platform for the sustainable use of the basin's resources. ICPDR's water management policy is substantially influenced by the European Union's Water Framework Directive adopted in 2000.

ICPDR established several expert groups: on emissions, monitoring, laboratory and information management, accident and emergency prevention, strategic and river basin management, and on ecological issues (e.g. our news item at www.ramsar.org/caxref:4544 on the 5th meeting of the Ecological Expert Group (ECO EG) in the Austrian Ramsar Site "Danube-Morava Floodplain" in September 2002). Increasingly, the experts of the ECO EG share the results of their work with the experts of the river basin management group and the Ordinary Meetings of the Contracting Parties to the Danube Convention; providing thus a significant contribution to the implementation of the Joint Action Programme 2001-2005 of the ICPDR. Under the agreement between the Ramsar Convention and ICPDR (cf. www.ramsar.org/key_icpdr_moc.htm), and specifically in view of implementing Ramsar's Resolutions VIII.1 on water allocation for wetlands and VII.18 on integrating wetlands into river basin management, it is crucial that the Ramsar national focal points in Danube states cooperate closely with their colleagues in charge of the Danube Convention. In several countries this is facilitated because the ECO EG expert is also the Ramsar focal point.

The Danube ECO EG held its 7th meeting on 22-23 September 2003 at the Bavarian Academy for Nature Conservation and Landscape Management (ANL) in the beautifully renovated former capuchin monastery of Laufen. The meeting focused on the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) that need to be put in place by the end of 2004 and the activities of the GEF Danube regional project, seen essentially as an operational implementation tool for the WFD requirements. In general terms, the WFD aims to unify standards and policies between different countries. It strictly follows the river basin approach and sets a time-frame for the achievement of "good quality status" of water, also in ecological terms. To this end a thorough economic analysis of water use and stakeholder involvement are requested. Particularly relevant for the Danubian countries is Article 5 of WFD that requests an analysis of the characteristics of each river basin district. Here, ICPDR will prepare a "roof report" by early 2005 covering the characterization of surface waters and groundwater, and the identification of significant pressures and impacts on them, the analysis of socio-economic indicators, and the preparation of Danube basin-wide maps on surface water bodies, eco-regions, internationally protected areas, and different development pressures.

The ECO EG looked at the draft "Guidance document on the role of wetlands in the Water Framework Directive" (available from the Ramsar Bureau on request). This document is intended to provide explanation and guidance to water managers on the specific roles and functions of wetland ecosystems in the context of the integrated river basin approach advocated by the WFD. It was drafted by an ad hoc group of national experts in EU member states, based inter alia on the 1995 Communication on the conservation and wise use of wetlands by the European Commission. Although it makes very little reference to the instruments of the Ramsar Convention so far (as it was drafted without consultation with Ramsar focal points), it covers different wetland-related aspects in a broad way. Furthermore, during the ECO EG meeting it was mentioned that the conceptual approach of the WFD, although very modern and forward looking at its time of preparation (in the 1990s), does not give due recognition to recent significant conceptual developments, notably the Integrated Water Resources Management approach, propagated since the 2nd World Water Forum in 2001 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, and the concept of environmental flows (e.g. www.waterandnature.org/flowlaunch.html). Finally, the ECO EG group decided to prepare an issues paper on "Wetlands in the Danube river basin - the role of wetlands in implementing the EU Water Framework Directive" for the upcoming Ordinary Meeting of the national delegations to ICPDR on 20 November 2003 in Vienna, with the help of the WWF Danube Carpathian Programme.

During the meeting, presentations about wetland restoration projects along the Morava river in Austria and about a pilot project for increased transboundary cooperation between the Duna-Drava National Park (Hungary) and the Kopacki Rit Nature Park (Croatia), all designated as Ramsar Sites, were made. In the framework of the Joint Action Programme of the ICPDR, several countries still have to identify wetland sites suitable for restoration projects. Finally, the ECO EG discussed better integration of its work with the River Basin Management group and started a reflection of its future role within ICPDR after 2004.

Prior to the meeting, its host Wolfgang Kraier, the German ECO EG expert of the Bavarian Water Management Agency, prepared an excellently documented excursion to floodplain restoration sites along the Isar river. During a warm end-of-summer Sunday, the ECO EG experts experienced first hand the incredible popularity amongst Munich's city dwellers of the Isar river floodplain at the "Flaucher", a recently restored site inside Bavaria's metropolis. After a nourishing lunch (it was the opening weekend of the "Oktoberfest") at Klosterbräu Stüberl Schäftlarn upstream the Isar (courtesy of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety), the participants visited other river and landscape restoration sites in connection with hydroelectric infrastructures at Ickinger weir and the Pupplinger Au. A day rich in German experiences of river restoration techniques.

And here a few photos of the memorable excursion (with rather low water levels after an extraordinary drought period during summer 2003 throughout large parts of Europe):

Isar river restoration in Munich "before" and "after" (in the foreground Wolfgang Kraier and Klaus Arzet of the Bavarian Water Management Agency, the latter responsible for the Isar restoration plan)

The very popular spot "Flaucher" with the restored floodplain inside Munich's metropolis

The new fish passage at "Flaucher", views downstream and upstream

Further upstream on the Isar river, the ECO EG at the new fish passage at Icklinger weir and during the evening sun in the restored Pupplinger Au floodplain forest

-- reported by Tobias Salathé, Ramsar

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